Sunday, May 29, 2011

Goldfinger [1964]

Dr. No and From Russia With Love had been highly successful, well-regarded films, but it is Goldfinger which truly began the James Bond phenomenon.  The series had a new director, a new tone, and a leading man who had become a genuine superstar.

This resulted in what was, at the time, one of the biggest box-office smashes in film history, a hit so large that it paved the way for the series to continue into at least the next five decades.  It wouldn't be exaggeration to suggest that this is a feat virtually unparalleled in cinema.

How has Goldfinger withstood the duration of those decades?  Is it still a world-class entertainment, or is it a relic of bygone times?
  


Well, I can't speak to that; not, at least, without sounding like a pretentious mix of vinegar and water.  However, I am amply qualified to speak as to how the film has withstood the test of years for me on a personal level.


I was not around for the film's original release, but Goldfinger was certainly one of the first Bond movies I saw.  I cannot remember what the first one I viewed was; I was born in 1974, and as far as I know did not see any of them in a theatre until Octopussy in 1983, but I can certainly recall watching the movies on television when they were broadcast.  I also have a vivid memory of thinking that Sean Connery was not the "real" James Bond, that Roger Moore was the only genuine 007; so I must have seen one of Moore's outings first.  It's possible that I was taken to a theatre to see Moonraker; I do recall owning some trading cards for that movie.  Or perhaps my first Bond was The Spy Who Loved Me when it premiered on television.

I don't know for sure, but I remember seeing Goldfinger and enjoying it, though with confusion as to why "someone else" was pretending to be James Bond.  An amusing reaction, that.

As I got older and more knowledgeable about what, exactly, a movie was, I quickly became convinced that Sean Connery was -- if not the only Bond (I always held, and still do today, an affection for Roger Moore, the Bond of my childhood) -- then certainly the best Bond.  And obviously, Goldfinger was a major part of that.

So, let's apply the Double-0 Rating system to Goldfinger and see how the judge has graded it.  We're not very far into the series yet, but From Russia With Love is currently the top dog, having been scored as a 006.17 out of a possible 007.  Can Goldfinger top that?  Methinks not; but let's find out.

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

This might be my favorite Connery performance as Bond.  I think the one in Thunderball edges it out; but if so, it's not by much, and any way you want to grade it, Connery is just dynamite in this movie.  This is an especially fine achievement when you consider how little Bond has to do once he is captured by Goldfinger's goons around the halfway-point of the film.

Up until that point, Connery as Bond is in absolute command of every scene.  One of the most iconic moments in the entire series comes in the pre-title sequence, when Bond, in his fine white tuxedo, glances nonchalantly at his watch to check the time against his mental calculations of when the explosion he has set should go off ... which it does immediately thereafter.  Connery is as cool as cool can be in this moment.


Connery also excels during his first two confrontations with Goldfinger, in which he cockily behaves as a man who cannot lose.  However, there are other points in the film during which Connery allows that facade of cool cockiness to crack a bit: he is great in his grim reactions to the deaths of the two Masterson sisters, especially in the scene he has with M after Jill is killed in Bond's own hotel room.

Connery also does a fine job of playing the desperation Bond feels while trying to infiltrate Goldfinger's factory in Switzerland; he is very nearly caught right off the bat, and later -- even after his marvelous Aston Martin gets put to its full range of uses -- finds himself with absolutely nowhere to go but straight into a brick wall.  There aren't a great many points in the Bond films in which 007 is put in helpless situations like these, but here, he finds himself in several; and Connery is great at playing both the helplessness Bond feels and the resolve to find some way, any way, out of the jam he is in.

Another couple of scenes in which I think Connery is particularly good: Goldfinger's revelation to Bond of his true plans for Fort Knox, and Bond's assertion to Pussy Galore soon afterward that Goldfinger is insane.  Connery plays the scene between Bond and Goldfinger with genuine respect for the brilliance of his adversary's plot; and he plays the scene between Bond and Galore with utter, grim conviction that Pussy's employer is crazy.  One of the things I like about the movie is that you never really find out which of those reactions, if either, represents Bond's actual feelings on the matter; he is emotionally manipulating both Goldfinger and Galore, and whether he is being truthful in either instance is hard to say.  This ought to feel like a flaw in the film, but somehow, it feels like anything but.


Finally, I'd be remiss in my Bond-blogging duty if I didn't mention how funny Connery is at certain points in the film.  His double entendres ("Something big's come up"), his amused incredulity ("Ejector seat, you're joking!"), his harriedly British insistence on remaining as calm as possible even when he is a mere seven seconds away from extreme-close-range nuclear annihilation ("What kept you?" he coolly asks the man who deactivates the nuke) ... Connery's facility with wit in this film is great, and is matched only occasionally in all the films that have followed in the Bond series.

Top marks for Connery in this film: it really doesn't get much better.  Points awarded: 007/007

(2)  SPECTRE

Main Villain:  Apart from Blofeld (and even that is just a maybe), Auric Goldfinger is probably the most iconic of all the Bond villains, and with good reason.  He's not the first megalomaniac in the films -- Doctor No, the first villain of them all, earned that distinction -- but out of the entire list of jackals and hyenas with which Bond must contend, Goldfinger is one of the very few who seems genuinely capable of following through on his plans.  Compare him with some of the laughable "supervillains" later films in the series conjure up -- Blofeld as depicted in Diamonds Are Forever, for instance, or Hugo Drax in Moonraker -- and you'll find that Goldfinger tops most of them handily.

Goldfinger, as I mentioned above, is judged by Bond to be a madman; so he tells Pussy, at least.  This is perhaps not far off the mark: Goldfinger takes the needless -- needless, that is, except to his ego -- risk of cheating at cards; he brazenly orders a henchman to kill Jill Masterson by covering her in gold paint, a murder which might as well have a signed confession accompanying it; he orders Bond to be eviscerated/castrated by a laser rather than simply putting a bullet into his brain; he has an uncooperative gangster not only shot but compacted by a car crusher.  These are all fairly insane actions.  Why does he do these things, and how is he able to get away with them?  Well, to be blunt about it: he is fabulously wealthy, and has no problem spending that wealth so long as he has the expectation that doing so will bring him even more gold.


In this sense, there is no difference between Goldfinger and, say, Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me.  Clearly, money is the only means by which Stromberg can do the things he does.  But in Goldfinger, the relationship between villainy and capital is just spelled out, for all to see, and is therefore persistently more plausible throughout the course of the film than it feels in almost any of the other Bond movies.  We are dealing in comic-book logic in this movie, rather than the mostly-realistic stylings of From Russia With Love, but within that context, Goldfinger is a believable, frightening, intimidating figure.

Part of the reason he works so well as a villain is that Gert Frobe is terrific in the role.  So is Michael Collins, who performed the role vocally (Frobe spoke virtually no English at the time of filming, and his accent was deemed too thick for audiences to cut through) and who probably deserves more credit than history has given him.  Frobe spends the vast majority of the film looking as though he is in complete control of the world around him; his facade is shattered by Bond during the card game in Miami, and again during the golf match in England, and in those scenes Frobe is great at suggesting -- this is how I read it, at least -- a bullied child who has spent his life attempting to ensure that he can never be bullied again.


There is also a persistent jocularity to Goldfinger; Frobe plays Auric with a gleam in his eye, and it is undoubtedly this quality to which Bond is referring when he (successfully) tries to impress upon Pussy Galore how insane Goldfinger is.  Many of the later villains -- and I'm thinking here specifically of Max Zorin in A View to a Kill -- share this jocularity, but most of them simply seem silly in comparison to Goldfinger; his jokes are windows into his soul, and they make him seem like a genuinely dangerous man and, therefore, like a genuinely formidable opponent for Bond.



I'm going to take this opportunity to address one of the largest plot holes in Goldfinger.  In the scene at Auric's stud in Kentucky, when he gathers all the gangsters together to lay out his plans and then has them all (except the one who decides to leave) gassed to death, why does he bother with any of this?  Why not simply kill them all outright once they are in one room together?

The obvious answer to this is that it is necessary for James Bond to find out what Goldfinger's plot consists of, because otherwise, the audience won't know, and if the audience doesn't know ... well, then what's the point of there even being a plot if the audience doesn't know it?  It is a plot device, nothing more.

Except ... except given what we know of Goldfinger's character -- that of an egomaniac who resorts to cheating to win a card game the stakes of which are as inconsequential to him as losing a penny would be to most people -- it does seem entirely possible, even plausible, that he would do just such a thing.  Undoubtedly, he knew when he invited the various gangsters to the meeting that none of them would leave it alive, much less with the million dollars he owed each of them.  It makes sense logically that he should have just killed them all with no particular fanfare; but if we believe Bond's assertion that Goldfinger is a madman, then why wouldn't he toy with the gangsters a bit before killing them?  So perhaps this scene is a plot hole ... but then again, seeing as how it fits in with the character as we understand him, maybe it isn't as much of one as it might at first appear.



Either way, Goldfinger is one of the great Bond villains, an adversary more than worthy of 007 himself.  Points awarded (Main Villain): 007/007



Henchmen:  Unquestionably, Oddjob is the all-time best henchman in the Bond series.  I'll admit that the killer bowler hat is silly, but that's really the only false note that Oddjob strikes.  Harold Sakata (a.k.a. Tosh Togo) is awesome in the role; he physically, and visually, dominates every scene he is in, and you have very little doubt that he can simply take Bond apart.  I don't have a whole heck of a lot to say about Oddjob, except to add that I love his vocalizations ("Ah!  Ah!"), I love his wardrobe, I love his caddying technique, and I love the amused reactions Sakata gives during his fight scene with Connery (especially the look he gives when Bond is trying to break Oddjob's arm).



However, I am going to dock a point from the film in this category, simply due to the fact that the rest of the henchmen are kinda lame.  The only other notable individuals are Kisch, an all-purpose henchman, and Mr. Ling, the Chinese agent who is helping Goldfinger hatch Operation Grand Slam.  Kisch is a complete blank, and Mr. Ling also barely registers, except in the poor acting of Burt Kwouk during the scene in which he overhears Bond mention Operation Grand Slam.  As for the rest ... the blue-pajamaed soldiers seem silly and incompetent, and the junior members of Pussy Galore's Flying Circus are merely embarrassing.  So are the assembled gangsters.

I feel as if maybe I should dock two points, but I just can't make myself do it; Oddjob is too cool.  Points awarded (Henchmen): 006/007

Total points awarded (SPECTRE):  006.50/007

(3)  The Bond Girls



Main Bond Girl:  I may as well just say it right up front: I'm not the world's biggest fan of the character Pussy Galore.  Yeah, yeah, the name makes me chuckle, too (still); and Honor Blackman is good in the role, and attractive in a severe sort of way.  But try as I might, I just cannot get all the way on board with the reversal the character goes through.  There is really no way to put it other than to say that James Bond fucks a woman out of villainy and back to heroism.  In the novel (and arguably, by implication, in the film), it's even more distasteful: there, Bond fucks a lesbian back into heterosexuality.  This is just hard to take in 2011.  It was probably kinda hot in 1964, but in this respect, the movie just hasn't aged well ... and that's without even bringing up the question of whether Bond's advances toward her in the hay can be counted as rape.  I'm going to leave that for more socially conscious minds than mine to determine.
 


That said, Honor Blackman is quite good in the role, and there is at least the implication that Galore is really only in all of this for the money.  She clearly has no sexual interest in Goldfinger, and once Bond tells her that Goldfinger is "really quite mad, you know," it seems that she quickly does the mental mathematics on her odds of surviving this whole affair, and finds that she's better off siding with Bond.  In that sense, it's possible to say that Pussy hasn't surrendered to Bond at all; instead, she's merely using him to help extricate herself from a potentially lethal situation.

Either way, I'm forced to give the film fewer points in this category.  Points awarded (Main Bond Girl): 005/007

Secondary Bond Girls:  Well, there certainly are a bevy of them in this film.  The first to appear is an uncredited Nadja Regin, playing Bonita, the dancer in the pre-credits sequence, whose duplicity shocks Bond.  Regin has nothing to do here except look beautiful; she was excellently capable of that.  She also appeared in From Russia With Love as Kerim Bey's amorous mistress.
 



Next up, Margaret Nolan, followed by ... Margaret Nolan.  Nolan, a pin-up model of the era (and one for whom a Google Images search is decidedly not safe for work), played the golden girl in the opening-credits sequence, and she also plays Dink, Bond's Miami masseuse.  Dink is a rather unfortunate character; the moment in which Bond smacks her on the rump and sends her away so that he and Leiter can engage in "man talk" is more than a bit embarrassing.
  



Once in Goldfinger's hotel room, of course, Bond finds Jill Masterson, played by the lovely Shirley Eaton (whose very name is awesomely worthy of Ian Fleming's tendency toward sex-related puns).  Jill is the ill-fated woman who ends up slathered head-to-toe in gold paint.  She doesn't start out that way, of course.  She starts out like this:
  


Let's go ahead and have a conversation about the extent to which Goldfinger is a purely chauvinistic film.  My answer is that it is, like most movies, only as serious as you take it.  Clearly, Goldfinger exists on a level of pulp-fiction (maybe even comic-book) logic, and it probably ought not be taken any more seriously than that.  Of course, simplistic narratives like those can have a powerful effect on simple minds, and it is likely that Goldfinger has had such an effect on many such minds over the years.  I'm including myself in that category, by the way.  In no way am I a serious thinker, and while I amuse myself by analyzing the movies/books/etc. I enjoy, I would in no way consider myself to be a keenly intellectual person.  Seeing as how that's the case, and seeing as how I practically was raised on watching Bond films, if they had a seriously deleterious effect on the easily-malleable, I ought to have matured into quite the male chauvinist.

It's for others to decide whether that happened or not, but from my vantage point, I would have to say that it most certainly did not happen.  I love women; adore them, in point of fact.  And rarely, if ever, have I found myself seriously physically attracted to one without also being seriously attracted to her intelligence, strength of character, and sense of humor.

That said, how much of that is present in Bond's mind during the scene depicted below?
 


  
I don't know.  What I do know is that, as the scene is written, Jill Masterson makes it clear that she is in no way sexually involved with Goldfinger ... but that she is very interested in becoming sexually involved with Bond.  This development occurs in all of about thirty seconds.  The mental and emotional circumstances behind it are left entirely up to the viewer's discretion to invent (although, if I recall correctly, the novel had a bit more to say on the subject, all of which made it plain that Jill was looking for any way out of Goldfinger's service).

It is worth pointing out that in 1964, women were not necessarily all that liberated.  Seeing a woman in a movie who decides -- brazenly, openly, and quickly -- to hop into the sack with a stranger would likely have still been a source of some consternation to large portions of society, at least here in America.  As such, I think you can view Jill as an example of forward-thinking social consciousness, and maybe even rebelliousness; she's a sex object as well, but at least she is obviously operating based on her own desires.  That makes her her own character; and that makes her admirable.

Unfortunately, this is what it gets her:
  


The sole remaining Bond Girl in the film is another Masterson: Jill's sister, Tilly, who shows up in Switzerland in the midst of a ham-fisted attempt to murder Goldfinger in retribution for her sister's death.  Tilly is played by Tania Mallet, who is not -- and I'm basing this only on her appearance in Goldfinger -- a particularly good actress.  But she is rather beautiful, especially once she has let her hair down, and like her sister Jill, Tilly is obviously a determined, individualistic woman who knows how to at least try to get what she wants.
 


I do enjoy Tilly as a plot device, however.  She shows up at precisely the right point in the movie for audiences -- at least, the hypothetical ones who are completely in the dark about what happens in the story and have no idea that Honor Blackman will be showing up after a while -- to assume that she will be Bond's female lead for the remainder of the movie.  This is especially true for readers of the novel, in which Tilly plays a major role.  However, in the film, she is quickly dispatched by Oddjob, just as her sister was, albeit in a different manner.  If I put myself in the mindset of someone who has never seen the movie before, and knows nothing about it, I can see how this plot development would have been genuinely surprising, and therefore quite satisfying in terms of creating suspense and thrills.  With that in mind, Tilly is a rather effective character.



All in all, I am forced to come to the conclusion that in terms of its secondary Bond Girls, Goldfinger is simply not very special.  I admire some of the characteristics of the female characters, and find others to be either poorly explored or outright offensive.  Points awarded: 004/007

Overall points awarded (The Bond Girls):  004.50/007

(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  The previous film in the series, From Russia With Love, featured one of the all-time-best fistfights in cinematic history: the Orient Express scuffle between Bond and Red Grant.  Hard to top that, and Goldfinger doesn't, but it comes pretty damned close in the climactic fight between Bond and Oddjob. 



The fight is one audiences are anticipating from the moment Oddjob appears in the film, neck-chopping 007 into unconsciousness, and it's no letdown. 



  
Best of all, Oddjob just utterly dominates Bond, who is only able to get the best of his stocky Korean opponent by using his wits, and electrocuting the poor chap.
  


  
There are a few other good action scenes, too: the pre-credits fight in Mexico, which also ends in an electrocution; the terrific Aston Martin scenes in Switzerland; and the chaotic liberation of Fort Knox by the American troops.

On the less positive side, the aerial raid on Fort Knox and the gassing of the troops stationed around it is, at best, poorly carried out.  It all looks just as fake as can be.  And yes, I get that it actually is fake, since the toxic nerve gas has somehow been swapped out for a non-lethal variety, and the troops are therefore only pretending to die.  Still ... did it have to look so lousy?  I'm taking off a point just for that.  Points awarded (Action/Stunts):  006/007

Editing:  Well, it's Peter Hunt at the splicer again, and he's doing an even better job here than he did with From Russia With Love.  Look no further than the climax of the film, in which Bond first tries to get himself un-handcuffed from the nuke, then fights Oddjob, then desperately tries to deactivate the bomb.  Those sequences are perfect examples of how to edit a film, as is the scene in which Bond is strapped to the table about to be lasered to death.  Points awarded (Editing):  007/007

Costumes/Makeup:  Bond's suits are immaculate; Oddjob's costume is iconic; both Pussy and Goldfinger have some outfits that are great, and some that are rather bland; and the blue-pajama uniforms of the Korean soldiers Goldfinger employs are just goofy.  As for the makeup -- something I don't always take into consideration, but will here -- the full-body gold-girl makeup is pretty spectacular.  Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup):  006/007

Locations:  This is not one of the film's strong points.  The film visits Miami Beach, but doesn't make much of its time there; the same can be said of Kentucky.  Switzerland is better-served: I love the shots of the forested hillsides near Goldfinger's factory, and the driving scenes as well.  Still, this is weak in comparison with many Bond pictures, as far as locations go.  Does that hurt the movie?  Absolutely not.  Points awarded (Locations):  004/007

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  005.75/007

(5)  Q Branch

Bond's Allies:  I've got two things to say here.  First of all, maximum points awarded initially for the fact that Q, as played by Desmond Llewelyn through 1999, was more or less invented in this film.  If you love Bond films, then you love the contentious relationship between 007 and Q, and Q's wearied exasperation with what he undoubtedly sees as a pig-headed field jackass is an excellent addition to the films.  It began right here, and was rarely better than it is here.
 



Also returning, of course, are Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell as M and Moneypenny; both are great, as usual.
 


Unfortunately, I am considerably less impressed by Cec Linder as Felix Leiter, and am deducting two points as a consequence.  I understand the fact that, by 1964, Jack Lord was too big a star to reprise his role as Leiter; it was necessary to recast the role, making this -- with the possible exception of Q in From Russia With Love (this depends on whether you consider the armorer in Dr. No to be the same character as the one Llewelyn plays) -- the first instance of the recasting for which the series would become infamous.  However, was Linder the best actor they could find for the role?  He looks at least three decades older than Lord, and has zero charisma.  He's a drain on the film, quite frankly, and it's good that he has few scenes.

I much more enjoy the brief screen time that Gerry Duggan has playing Hawker, Bond's caddy during the golf scene.  It's a minor role, but one that Duggan plays with conviction and humor.


Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  006/007

Direction:  Terence Young was unavailable for the making of this film, so the producers turned to Guy Hamilton as a replacement.  And he does pretty terrific work here.  Some of the visuals are especially fine; the single best visual moment is probably the one in which we pull back from Goldfinger on the Swiss roadside to see Bond on a hill above him, looking down, observing ... and then pull back to see Tilly Masterson on a hillside above Bond, looking down at Bond, or at Goldfinger, or at both.  That's a moment worthy of Hitchcock.  So is the composition of the balcony scene in which Bond thwarts Goldfinger's illicit card activities; the placement of Shirley Eaton, Sean Connery, and the binoculars is reminiscent somewhat of Rear Window (an homage, if homage it is, which even fits thematically, given that Bond is meddling in other peoples' lives, as was Jimmy Stewart's character in that Hitchcock masterpiece).

Apart from that, Hamilton infuses the film with a massive amount of humor (such as the amusing machine-gun wielding granny), but never so much that things can't turn very serious very quickly.  It's all absurd, and the coda, in which Goldfinger makes one last attempt to get even with Bond, is poorly executed.  All in all, though, Hamilton did very fine work on this film.  Points awarded (Direction):  007/007
  


  
Cinematography:  Ted Moore was behind the camera again, and he got great results.  Probably the most memorable scene from a lighting standpoint is Bond's discovery of Jill's gold-painted corpse; the darkness of the scene as Bond regains consciousness gives way to horrible brightness as he finds her shining body.  The movie still looks great, too, nearly fifty years later.  Points awarded (Cinematography):  007/007
  


Art Direction:  After being absent for From Russia With Love, Ken Adam returned to the series, and did a typically excellent job.  The sets are very good, especially during the Bank of England scene and the laser-table scene, and most especially during the Fort Knox scenes.  I don't know what Fort Knox looks like, and never will know ... but I don't need to, because I imagine that I'd rather it look just like it looks here.  I also love -- silly though it might be from a story standpoint -- the scene in which Goldfinger shows off his plans to the gangsters; those models and moving walls and whatnot are pretty darn cool.  Points awarded (Art Direction):  007/007

Special EffectsGoldfinger is a mixed bag in the special effects department.  There are a number of poor process shots; the ones at the hotel in Miami Beach are awful.  On the other hand, the shot in which Bond glimpses an attacker in the eye of the lady he is smooching is awesome; and so is the airplane crashing into the ocean at the end of the film.  And the execution of the laser in its scenes is pretty great, too.  So, a mixed bag, but with more positives than negatives.  Points awarded (Special Effects):  005/007



  
Gadgets:  The tricked-out Aston Martin DB5 is probably the most memorable gadget in the entire film series.  Machine guns, revolving licence plates, oil-slick shooters, whirling anti-tire blades, ejector seat ... it's got everything, and it's at least moderately believable.  Less so for Oddjob's lethal bowler hat (silly in the extreme), for which I am tempted to deduct a point, but will give it back for the presence of the first-ever scene in Q's laboratory, but I remain obstinate.  Points awarded (Gadgets):  007/007
  


Opening-Title Sequence:  Robert Brownjohn's opening titles are a more ambitious version of the ideas executed in the titles for From Russia With Love.  There, images were projected onto the undulating torso of a belly dancer.  Here, moments from the film are projected -- or, one might say, foreshadowed -- onto the gold-painted body of model Margaret Nolan.  I especially like the moment in which Sean Connery's face is projected onto Nolan's.  Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence):  006/007
  


Total points awarded (Q Branch):  006.43/007

(6)  Mission Briefing

I've made a few references during this post about Goldfinger having comic-book logic.  What I mean by that is that in Goldfinger, the Bond films abandoned the more-or-less realistic tone of From Russia With Love and went back to the bigger, more exaggerated type of storytelling found in the second half of Dr. No.  I've probably sounded as if I was by definition making Goldfinger's approach seem less satisfactory than that of From Russia With Love, but I don't necessarily find that to be the case as I'm writing this review.  Goldfinger is certainly less believable, strictly speaking, but do we watch movies with the expectation that we are only going to see our own dim reality reflected back at us?  Some people do, no doubt; I do not.

Therefore, I don't mind that all of a sudden in 1964 the Bond films contained metal-melting lasers and statues that get decapitated by bowler hats ... at least, I don't mind in theory.  I'm reminded of the term "plausible impossible" (which I first encountered in reference to the treatment of physics as found in early Walt Disney animation), which indicates something that cannot, as we know it in real life, take place, but is presented on film in a context that is altered just enough from reality so as to make the action plausible within that fictional reality.

Goldfinger informs me that in its universe, Auric Goldfinger has developed a laser of sufficient power that it can cut through gold and other metals (not to mention human flesh).  Fair enough; I can buy that, and the film treats that laser consistently each time it is used.  Oddjob's bowler hat is less convincing, and the reason for that is that it is not treated consistently.  The first time it is used, it slices right through a statue.  Okay; I can buy that, because I can theoretically imagine a blade sharp enough to do so, and a man strong enough to fling it with enough force to cause it to happen.  However, the second time it is used, it fails to cut through mere flesh and bone; it only breaks Tilly's neck, whereas the earlier scene suggested that it ought to have removed the head altogether.  Then, the third and fourth times the hat is used, it is strong enough to cut partially into, and stick in, metal bars!

I suppose that if I want to make excuses, I could always rationalize one of two things: that Oddjob actually wears three different hats; or that the blade was dulled by cutting through the statue and therefore unable to do more than break Tilly's neck ... whereas by the time Oddjob got to Fort Knox he has sharpened it again.  But these are unlikely scenarios, and that makes Oddjob's bowler hat a  bit of a story weakness.

Also a weakness, and a serious one: why do the American troops allow Goldfinger's goon squad to progress as far as they do in the raid on Fort Knox?  It's a somewhat unstated truth that they are lulling Goldfinger in long enough for the nuclear bomb to arrive (the last thing anyone wants is for an enemy nuke to be on American soil in an unknown location), so that part makes sense; but oughtn't they have had some troops closer, hiding in some way, so that as soon as the nuke arrived and was detected, they were already within striking distance?

I can let that slide, I suppose.  I'm a bit less inclined to let slide the fact that Bond himself is almost totally irrelevant to the plot for the last half of the movie.  Somehow, amazingly, this ends up not being a serious problem, but that is due more to Guy Hamilton's direction, the performances, and John Barry's music -- and to the editing, sets, etc. -- than it is to the screenplay.  If one or more of those other elements hadn't worked as well as they do, then the inactivity of Bond in the screenplay might have proved disastrous.

On the more positive side, it must also be noted that this screenplay -- by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn -- does possess an ample serving of wit, and also introduced to the series one of its most compelling elements: the pre-credits action sequence which tells a story completely (or almost completely) unrelated to the rest of the film.  That is an added element which ought not be discounted.  I don't think it makes up entirely for some of the screenplay's deficiencies, but it's notable.

Points awarded (Mission Briefing):  005/007

(7)  The Music



Title Song:  Also new to the series with this film is the song performed during the opening credits.  Dr. No had had a medley of the Bond theme and "Three Blind Mice," and From Russia With Love had an instrumental piece; here, we get the first genuine Bond title song, and it's one of the very best.  Shirley Bassey sings the hell out of it, and it's a great theme with good Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley lyrics.  The Bond series would chase this type of success -- the strident, confident, brassy theme song -- over and over again, and hasn't entirely given up on it yet even today ... but it's never been done better, not in this style, at least.  Points awarded (Title Song):  007/007
  


  
The Score:  As good as the title song is, the score just as good.  There are numerous scenes in which John Barry does tremendously good work: the scene on the laser-table; the post-credits flyover of Miami Beach; Oddjob's leitmotif; the instrumental versions of the title song; and, especially, the aerial raid on Fort Knox by Pussy Galore's Flying Circus.  Barry's doesn't use the James Bond Theme more than once or maybe twice; instead, he creates material that is specific to this film.  It remains a great score to this day ... maybe not the best in the series, but definitely one of the best.  Points awarded (The Score):  007/007

Overall points awarded  (The Music):  007/007

Double-0 Rating for Goldfinger006.03/007


That's a better score than I might have predicted I'd give Goldfinger.  The last time I watched the series all the way through, I found myself a little bored with this film; the plot holes bothered me, and the overtly unrealistic elements seemed too jarring in such proximity to From Russia With Love.  This time, though, I found myself appreciating the film's tremendous entertainment value, and not so much minding some of the weaker elements.

The tally so far:

006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
004.76 -- Dr. No
002.55 -- Climax!: Casino Royale

You Only Blog Twice will return in ... Thunderball.

9 comments:

  1. In poking about the web a bit, I stumbled across the blog The Incredible Suit, which is in the midst of doing a similar 007 retrospective. If you're at all amused by my ramblings here, you should check them out:

    http://theincrediblesuit.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  2. "As for the rest ... the blue-pajamaed soldiers seem silly and incompetent, and the junior members of Pussy Galore's Flying Circus are merely embarrassing. So are the assembled gangsters."

    Dawn and I watched this on G4 last night (her first time, my God-who-knows-how-many-th-time) and we were laughing at both these things. Also, I mean, why does Goldfinger have all these Chinese henchmen? Is that part of his business arrangement with Mr. Ling, that he hire only Chinese blue-and-yellow-suited flunkies? Perhaps Mr. Ling has an underling-staffing-agency of some kind...

    Pussy Galore's Flying Circus Girls are a bit ridiculous, to be sure, but that scene where they walk across the tarmac is so ludicrously agreeable in other aspects that I'm willing to award them much higher points. There should damn-well-be a whole series of spin-off adventures involving PG and her Flying Circus. Written by Alan Moore. (I'm actually serious, not just for the Moore-fanboy within me, or his propensity for lesbian action, but he'd find a way to make the whole idea not just believable/ updated but probably incredibly cool/ intellectual.)

    Where is that pic of PG on the beach from?

    How would you rate Adele's "Skyfall" against this theme?

    You know, that's a very good point about while it makes no sense for Goldfinger to reveal his plan just to kill the gangsters (whose constant commentary on things happening to them is hilarious: "hey! The floor's moving over here!" etc.) it's in lockstep with Goldfinger's character. Also, what was the one gangster thinking when he opted out, that Goldfinger would just let him go? He just heard the whole plan! Should've played along and THEN bailed, unless he took the whole "Honor Among Thieves" thing to heart. (Fatally.)

    There's a documentary called "The Money Masters" that asserts (among other things) that there IS no gold in Fort Knox, and that this plan was hatched between the wars/ was a big ruse to repay the Bank of England for the gold JP Morgan demanded as payment for all his WW1 loans. It's a complex argument and I am not doing it justice, but during the section of the film that deals with this, the narrator keeps showing scenes from "Goldfinger" and referring to it like the film is some expose on the swindle. Awesomely funny.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Goldfinger" is a ridiculous movie nearly from top to bottom, but it's so entertaining, and so innocent -- and consistent -- in its ridiculousness that it's hard to find much fault with it. For me, it is, at least.

      I don't remember where I found that pic of Honor Blackman on the beach. It was during a Google search for good pics of her. My guess is that it was from a magazine or newspaper around the time the movie came out.

      Goldfinger theme song vs. Skyfall theme song... I'll go with "Goldfinger," but not by a heck of a lot. Both are pretty great. It's gonna be tough for the next flick's theme song to measure up.

      I'd heard that theory about the emptiness of Fort Knox before. Seems unlikely, but who can say? Money is all just complicated pretend-time anyways, so I don't know that it matters all that much one way or the other.

      Many would disagree with me on that, I'm sure.

      Delete
  3. That was a good read. I've always had mixed feelings about Goldfinger. It's chock-full of iconic moments (the shot of the Aston Martin is fantastic) but after a strong first half the second half just bogs down. I think the scene where James Bond is casually reeling off the weight of gold and the half-life of cobalt bombs is where it falls apart - there's a cliche of the villain giving away his plan to Bond and not killing him, and although it makes sense that Goldfinger might do this (he's the very stereotype of an arrogant German) it was a bad precedent.

    One thing has always bugged me about the plan - he just wants to irradiate the gold rather than destroy it, and he argues that this will make it worthless. But the authorities know exactly how much gold is in Fort Knox, and even if they can't physically get to it they can still trade it. As I understand it the gold never moves around anyway, it just sits in Fort Knox and they issue chits whenever a quantity is bought and sold. It's as if the filmmakers assumed that the gold would vanish, or that it's constantly withdrawn so that... the President can play with it, or something.

    I think the casual detail of Goldfinger having an atom bomb dates the film more than the laser nowadays. The film alludes to the possibility that a nuclear explosion in Fort Knox might cause a third world war, and presumably Goldfinger plans to hide in Switzerland until it blows over, but... I dunno, the film manages to be ridiculous enough that the nuclear bomb seems relatively mundane. Bond was in the Navy, and the RN had nuclear submarines in the 1960s, so perhaps he really did know the half-life of a cobalt bomb.

    The detail of Goldfinger's Rolls-Royce being used to smuggle gold reminded me a bit of The French Connection; the smuggling operation could have been the basis for a separate film, and it's almost typical of the Bond films' bravado that this segment of the plot is dropped in favour of something more dramatic before it gets boring.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those are all good points. The Bond films don't always stand up to plot scrutiny. I should probably have said "don't typically." Maybe even "don't ever." I don't mind too much, as long as they have a sort of internal logic. Most of the things you mention (the idea about the gold still being tradeable, for instance) can theoretically be explained away by simply choosing to believe that Goldfinger wasn't smart enough to figure such things out.

      I go back and forth on the movie myself. The time before this when I rewatched all of the films, I found it to be silly and overrated. THIS time when I rewatched them all, I wondered what in hell I'd been thinking that previous time. Who knows what'll happen next time?

      Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  4. Goldfinger began the rather disturbing and distressing formula that at least one of the Bond girls have to be killed of....to the point where it became predictable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Goodness -- I somehow missed this comment. Apologies for the lack of a reply, Ken! And good call: that plot device -- which is not one of the better 007 tropes -- did indeed begin here.

      Delete
  5. I agree with the "Goldfinger is a mixed bag" sentiment, but I just can't really pick out any serious things to hold against the movie, the plot holes and contrivances as such don't keep me from enjoying the movie at all, but it just isn't as exciting as "From Russia With Love" or "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".. "Goldfinger" to me seems a little more like those action-adventure movies you used to watch on Saturdays with your parents, where you always know things will turn out well while watching, it doesn't have the same dramatic impact for me.
    But I can't call it a bad Bond movie, no sir.. And really, if you had to show one movie to a Bond neophyte to explain what it was all about.. I think this would be a logical choice, it sure checks an awful lot of the "typical Bond" boxes..
    Part of me probably also rates Goldfinger less favourably because of how overexposed it is, the amount of times someone has written an article about Bond's best whatever (Bond Girl, Film, Villain, what have you) and just always seem to put Goldfinger at the very top has always annoyed me, it's good, but it just isn't THAT good. It does a good job across the board, but in most areas there are Bond movies that do it better!

    I've always had a strange attraction to Pussy Galore (pun very much NOT intended).. maybe it is the fact that she is a little older, makes her stand out more? I don't know, but I like her, also, nice to see a Bond Girl with more of a backbone (not saying Honey or Tatiana didn't, but Pussy definately seems a lot more tough than those two).
    As for Jill? Humanah-humanah-humanah...........
    I agree on Linder being an ineffective Leiter, I won't say he has ZERO charisma though, if anything he seems too jovial, where as I've always envisioned Felix as being a bit more laid back..
    He has very good chemistry with Connery, and the two seem like old friends, but I just don't buy him as Felix Leiter, he seems more like 50's gumshoe detective with his hat.. Also, he isn't helped by the movie utterly failing to make him seem the least bit useful..
    "I'm tired, let's go back to the motel" I cannot picture other Leiters reacting like that.
    Funnily enough, when my father (a fellow Bond fan) pictures Leiter, it is Linder.. Because that was the first time he saw Leiter as a kid.. Nostalgia can play a powerful role sometimes..
    Never been a huge fan of the theme song, don't get me wrong it is definitely one the best Bond songs ever, and certainly the most iconic, but never something I would listen too otherwise, the overexposure of this picture probably plays a part there too..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the comparison of "Goldfinger" to tv-with-your-parents viewing. That's very apt. I'm with you, both on that and on the fact -- and it IS a fact, I think -- that despite that, it's a good Bond flick.

      Honor Blackman being a bit older probably DOES make her stand out more, now that you mention it. I hadn't considered that, but it's probably true. I don't remember ever thinking that she seemed old, though (when I was a kid and most likely to have that thought, I mean). I just took her as another of Bond's girlfriends. Rather progressive of me, in a mindless sort of way.

      Good point about Linder and Connery having strong chemistry. And your Dad holding him up mentally as THE Felix makes complete sense to me. As you say, nostalgia counts for a lot. This, of course, is one of the reasons the Bond series is so deeply fascinating and alluring: its very longevity (and the varied nature of its components that goes along with it) inspires a wide range of reactions like that, and consequently Bond fans have ALWAYS got things to talk about.

      Delete